Joann’s Turkey Gravy

It was the best turkey gravy I can remember, even better than Mom’s.

For many years we have been going to the annual Harvest Festival at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church near Clayton, Wisconsin. The church is a jewel set among woodlots and farm fields where it was established in 1902 by Carpatho-Russian immigrants from eastern Europe.

It is a small but vibrant church. With a congregation of fewer than one hundred adults, nearly everyone has to pitch in to make the Harvest Festival a success. This year more than six hundred people enjoyed a dinner of cabbage rolls, baked ham, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, cranberry sauce, marinated vegetable salad, dinner rolls and homemade pie.

At dawn on the Saturday before the dinner the men are boiling water and steaming cabbages. Women are putting meat on the leaves and making the rolls. By noon, over two thousand fresh cabbage rolls are cooking in the roasters. On Sunday morning entire families are working together.

This year a young man who was probably five or six years old did a great job of keeping full bowls of cranberry sauce on the tables, middle schoolers bussed dishes, teenagers set new places and delivered pies. The pies are served family style, so you can have two pieces if you want. Both the apple and pumpkin were delicious.

Moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers–everyone is part of an elaborate ballet that is a joy to watch while visiting with strangers and friends who share your table. Joann Schramski is one of those grandmothers.

Her job for many years has been to make the turkey gravy served with the mashed potatoes. This year she made about nine gallons. She learned how to make it from her mother, does not have a recipe and goes by taste, just like Julia Child. Her taster might have been working extra well this year, but as I think back over previous Harvest Fest dinners we have attended, the gravy was always excellent.

Since you probably do not want to make nine gallons of gravy, I did my best to adjust the quantities of ingredients Joann shared with me to make about one and a half quarts. This may seem like a lot, but this gravy goes well with turkey, chicken, beef and lamb. Plus you can freeze the leftover gravy and use it later.

The one major difference is that I used two turkey legs instead of one, but the package had two legs, and I figured that two would make a richer broth. Jerri and I felt that it was a success, and I think that you’ll like it too. Here is what I did.


2 turkey legs
1/2 cup celery
1/2 cup onion
2 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
Juice from a can of green beans
1/4 cup cornstarch
Kitchen Bouquet


Put the turkey legs, broth and a scant three cups of water into a large saucepan or Dutch oven. The pan should be wide enough so the turkey legs will lie flat and be covered with the liquid.

Clean and coarsely chop the celery and onion. Purée them in a blender with a cup of water. Pour the vegetables into the pot with the turkey legs. Add the two bouillon cubes, salt and pepper, bring to a boil and simmer for at least two hours.

While you are making the gravy, open a can of green beans that you can serve on the side and drain the juice into the broth. Stir occasionally and skim any foam that appears.

Turn off the heat and remove the legs from the pot and cool them on a plate. Working with a knife and your fingers, carefully separate the meat from the legs. Discard the skin, bones and tendons and cut the meat into small pieces.

Return the meat to the broth and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Mix the cornstarch with a quarter cup of cold water. Stir the cornstarch into the broth and cook until thickened, two or three minutes. Add a small amount of Kitchen Bouquet browning and seasoning sauce to deepen the color.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

NOTES: Joann goes through the meat twice by hand to make sure that all the bones and small pieces of tendon have been removed. It’s easy to miss those little pieces of tendon, in particular, so I do the same.

Joann’s use of the bean juice is typical of good cooks who hate to discard anything that is edible and that can contribute to a dish. My mother did the same and so does Jerri. I really think that the bean juice adds to the complex flavor of Joann’s turkey gravy.

If the gravy is thicker than you like, add a little more water. If it’s not thick enough, mix a tablespoon of corn starch with a tablespoon of water and stir it into the gravy.

And on a personal note, Joann told me that when she and her husband Roger drove into the yard after the dinner this year, they found the yard filled with cars, children and grandchildren. It was nearly suppertime.

She told her husband, “I’m really too tired to cook this evening.”

Roger had the answer. “We’ve got hot dogs in the freezer and stuff in the fridge. I’ll build a fire and we’ll have a wiener roast.”

And so they did.

Dad’s Milk Gravy

When I say that my father was not much of a cook, my brother and sisters will accuse me of wild exaggeration.  As they always do, they would bring up the matter of the “prunes and greens” that Dad tried to get us to eat one evening when we were very young.  Our idea of good food then was hamburgers, hot dogs and what Mom made.  We liked donuts and cinnamon rolls too, no matter where they came from.

I think that they were beet greens, but they may have been spinach.  Whatever they were, they did not go with prunes.  My father must have agreed with us, as I do not remember his “laying down the law” about “eating what was set before you” and “thinking about the starving children in China.” I don’t remember what we ate that night, but I’m sure that it was something other than the tiny taste of plump prunes and soggy sweetish greenish stuff that we had to try.

Actually, my father could open a can with the best of men, slice bread and make coffee.  He could also peel and boil potatoes, chop vegetables and stir soups on schedule.

And he knew how to make milk gravy. I must have been ten or eleven years old, and I can still remember his coaching:

“Get the grease hot–not too hot, add the flour, salt and pepper.  Stir until it’s smooth and bubbling.  Let it bubble a minute, but don’t let it brown very much.  That’s good! Now add the milk and stir.  Don’t dribble it in!  Dump it all in at once.  Then stir and keep stirring.  When the gravy starts bubbling and gets smooth, turn the heat down and cook it for two or three minutes.  Turn off the heat and you’re done.  Now you know how to make milk gravy.”

It really is that easy.  And depending on the kind of shortening you use, you can make a gravy that goes great with chicken or pork chops for lunch or dinner or with fresh biscuits for what may well become your own famous breakfast biscuits and gravy.

Here’s the recipe for Dad’s milk gravy:


3 T grease
3 T flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2 cups milk


If you are having fried or oven-fried chicken or pork chops, remove the meat when it is done and reduce the amount of fat in the pan to three tablespoons or if necessary, add some butter or shortening to bring the amount of fat up to three tablespoons.  Add the flour, salt and pepper to the pan and scrape any meat bits into the gravy as you cook it over moderate heat.  You can do the same if you are making biscuits and gravy to go with bacon or sausage.  Taste and adjust the seasoning and pour the gravy into a serving bowl or gravy boat.

Making milk gravy really is child’s play, and your family and guests will thank you.

NOTES:  If you save your bacon grease, you can make a flavorful gravy to go with almost any meal when boiled or mashed potatoes are on the menu. If you don’t have bacon grease, use butter or shortening.  If the gravy is thicker than you prefer, stir in more milk a tablespoon at a time until you achieve the consistency you want. You can substitute ordinary finely ground black pepper if you don’t have white pepper on hand, but you may see some black flecks in the gravy; it will taste fine.